This is our 100th Rant, and there is zero going on with the Packers, so I thought I’d share a WI pilgrimage that is near-and-dear to my heart. Now this isn’t a pilgrimage to Mecca, this is more like a pilgrimage to a low level holy site, comparable to a short journey to the local shrine or the unmarked tomb of a moderately famous imam. This little jaunt that I take a few times a year ends in Cumberland, WI, and it involves two of my favorite things: a temple of bratwurst and heaping piles of cavatilles. You don’t know what cavatilles are? For shame…I will explain.
The Hillside elders live in a beautiful home on Beaver Dam Lake in Cumberland and there are not many better places to visit. The downstairs living room is a shrine to the Packers, complete with a 3x5-ft. bar mirror of Lambeau, lamps and mugs adorn the shelves and tables. Chairs and pictures are spread around the room; Grandma Hillside loves her Packers. However, it is not solely the family and lake that draws one to Cumberland, although if you wanted, Lucille would probably watch a Packer game with you if you mentioned me. The draw for any true Wisconsinite and lover of food to “The Island City” is Louie’s Finer Meats and The Tower House, Bona Casa Foods, and Sammy’s Pizza.
Louie’s Finer Meats is quite simply an amazing, family-run, meat emporium. You name it; they’ve probably got it, including 50+ types of bratwurst. They make beer brats, cranberry brats, the Badger brat (onion, garlic, mozzarella, pimento), jalapeno and cheddar brats, and the Packer brat, made with the ‘kraut already inside along with some good ol’ Wisconsin Cheddar. They even have a Viking brat which just goes to show you that a) no one’s perfect and b) Louie Sr. is a shrewd businessman. In addition to a number brats that would take four seasons of tailgating to plow through, they have meats galore. Steaks, chops, loins, breasts, and bacon cut as thick as your wrist, pretty much whatever you need. Also, if you look at the reflection in the stainless steel of the refrigerated display case just right, you can see a sign on a pad-locked cooler that says: “The Ol’ 96er”. Bring plenty of coolers when you go because you will always leave with more than you anticipated, and you will be a better person for it.
Cumberland was a popular destination for Italian immigrants, and a visit to Cumberland is not complete without visiting at least one of the trifecta of Italian restaurants in town. Following behind Grandpa Hillside’s Sedan de Ville as he inches through town toward either The Tower House, Bona Casa, or Sammy’s Pizza is harsh punishment when all you want to do is bury your face in a plate of cavatilles. You may think I mean cavatelli, but I assure you that I don’t. While the two types of pasta are similar, the Cumberland-evolved version is slightly different in that it is a solid noodle rather than simply folded over. I have never found somewhere outside of Cumberland that sells cavatilles, and maybe that is why they have such a hold over me. Each of the three restaurants’ cavatilles have a slightly different sauce, but you cannot go wrong with any, and they all come with a choice of meatballs or Italian sausage. You will be missing out if you don’t go for the sausage, mark my words. Now, if you are pressed for time and can't spend all day sampling fat, doughy noodle dishes, then I suggest you make a beeline for Sammy’s. In addition to the cavatilles, you can get a Miller Lite in the old-school 8 oz. glasses and, in true Wisconsin style, a portion of the dining room is a shrine to the Packers. The wall of Sammy’s is covered with photos of Sammy with current and former Packers, from Bart Starr to Greg Jennings…most of which are autographed. Beautiful!
Fill a cooler with meat and eat cavatilles, drink a beer, and admire a fantastic collection of autographed Packers’ photos and you'll be very glad you made the pilgrimage to Cumberland, Wisconsin, The Island City.
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